The Votes That Really Count

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For all the money, advertising time and media attention that Congressional races generate, few of their outcomes will directly impact people's lives nearly as much as ballot measures will. In addition to electing representatives to go to Washington, voters across the country will also have their say on more than 200 ballot initiatives, proposals and referendums. The topics range from the mundane, like a legislative referendum on fishing and hunting in Georgia, to divisive national issues like the referendum to reject an anti-abortion law passed earlier this year in South Dakota.

Following are a few of the ballot issues that will be eagerly watched around the nation.

PROPERTY RIGHTS:

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, property rights will be the most debated issue being decided this election season, having garnered the attention of voters in 12 states, several of them dealing specifically with regulatory taking, eminent domain and in some cases both. The issue grew large after the landmark Supreme Court decision of Kelo v. City of New London, in which the High Court found that government can take private property and give it to a development interest so long as the community can enjoy some economic benefit. The 2005 decision has since found a host of critics, who eventually built a strong enough coalition supporting owners" rights to bring it to the state initiative arena.

"The Kelo decision awoke a sleeping tiger," says Leonard Gilroy, a senior policy analyst with the Reason Foundation, a public policy research nonprofit. "People realized their property rights weren"t fixed. When you look at what"s happened to property rights over the last 100 years there has been a fundamental erosion of property rights. That happens all the time, and the problem is that landowners are not compensated for those impacts."

States Voting: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Lousiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Washington.

GAY MARRIAGE:

Close behind, and perhaps more emotionally charged, is the same-sex marriage debate. Eight states are deciding on how to define marriage, whether to prohibit similar legal status, and in Colorado, create domestic partnerships. Kansas and Texas decided last year that marriage could only take place between a man and a woman. Earlier this year, Alabama passed a legislative referendum that prohibited the state from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, or even recognizing same-sex licenses issued in other states. In 2004, a total of 13 states passed same-sex marriage bans, and the ballot measures themselves were credited with helping to boost Republican turnout in a presidential election year.

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